For both the SEO (Search Engine Optimization) & Website Design industries, the term ‘mobile-first’ is one that has been discussed for years. So much so, that it may have faded out of relevance as a key talking point for some webmasters and SEOs. Well, this is no longer the case, as the early signs that ‘mobile-first’ is here have been fully realized by Google.
What Is Mobile-First?
So, what does ‘Mobile-First’ mean? While the term can be defined in several ways, in general, it reflects the paradigm shift in how users search and engage online, moving from desktop to mobile phones. As a result, building and optimizing a site should put mobile-first, ahead of desktops and tablets. Within SEO, mobile first is also understood as how search engines will begin to crawl, index, and rank websites. This means that going forward, Google and other search engines will scan your website’s mobile experience before the desktop and tablet.
Why is Mobile Important?
Mobile is important because of intent and traffic share. While mobile phone technology continues to rapidly improve, allowing for even greater user control when searching online, user behavior with mobile devices is still more deliberate and likely to convert compared to desktop. In other words, mobile users are highly actionable/engaged, while desktop users are more passive.
Websites that can’t provide the best mobile experience based on user intent will rapidly decline in traffic, as the shift from desktop to mobile continues. How big is this shift? In 2017, the percentage of visits on mobile across the web grew from 57% to 63%. In addition to this, the traffic share % for mobile devices has grown every year since 2010. This tells us that even if your website is not trying to drive traffic from search engines, most users are on their phones now and website designs should reflect this.
What’s Google Telling Us About Mobile First in 2019?
Considering the traffic share % of mobile users, it’s no surprise that Google has moved to mobile first in how it scans and ranks websites. The majority of users on Google are on their phones! As a result, we can see Google updating its full suite of tools and platforms. Just take a look at Google’s Page Speed Insights- Google is now pushing users to see their website’s performance on mobile before desktop. This is a subtle, but very important choice Google has made, as they are essentially saying, ‘fix your website’s load speed on mobile now before the algorithms are updated to weigh mobile performance at a greater level than desktop.’
Google has made efforts to temper the reaction, as they have officially stated:
“Mobile-first indexing is about how we gather content, not about how content is ranked. Content gathered by mobile-first indexing has no ranking advantage over mobile content that’s not yet gathered this way or desktop content. Moreover, if you only have desktop content, you will continue to be represented in our index.”
What does this ultimately point to then if Google is not changing how it understands and content? The mobile experience as the means to access content.
Initial Steps to Optimize for Mobile First
What are some easy ways to help optimize a site for mobile-first?
- Responsive Websites. This is the first step, as a responsive website will give users a mobile-friendly site.
- AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages). AMP helps strip unnecessary HTML from a webpage on mobile devices, which drastically increases website load times.
- Website Load Speed. While AMP is a solution for this on certain pages, making sure your website is optimized, based on evolving performance standards, in addition to fast load times
- Internal Linking. Logical internal linking in text content will help with user experience and crawling your site.
Predictions for Mobile-First Optimization in 2019
If you take the last 4-5 years in account, there may be an underwhelming amount of search engine updates when it looking at mobile-first SEO. This is because Google has clearly stated there is no ‘mobile index’ and that mobile-first revolves around gathering content. I find that this year we will see several key algorithm updates that reflect the more technical aspects for websites, which are very important to the mobile experience. These include key features such as:
- Website Load Speed
- Content Layout & Structure
- Site Architecture
- Internal Linking
Have any questions on how to improve these key aspects of your website? Reach out to us, and our team of SEO & Website Experts will review your website and help identify what work needs to be done.